Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Last Kill by Charlie Wells

The Last Kill by Charlie Wells.
Signet 1225, Copyright 1955.

One of my favorite paperback covers, by one of the great cover artist-Robert Maguire. Between the covers is a good hardboiled P.I. story.

Steve Lee is a southern PI, working out of Memphis. The book opens with Lee identifying for the cops, a
murdered friend/stool pigeon of his in a muddy field. "...burn marks were made in the extremely tender flesh behind the knee. .45 slugs smashed through, obliterating his nose, so that now his face had that sunken-in look of a sun-bleached skull. I bent down, found more of those burn marks on his neck and chest. Sammie's last hours had been his roughest." Of course, since this was Lee's friend, he sets out to find who murdered him.

This is 50s hard-nosed crime fiction. And if you think you are reading something by Mickey Spillane, you might not be far off. Wells even states on the back cover that "Spillane decided I could write and worked with me for a whole year." Even the title sounds like something from Mickey. Steve Lee carries a .45 and uses it. Along the way he takes on the low-lifes, cases the joints, takes a sap to the skull, and does some good detective work. There are icepicks, torture, more killings and of course a couple of skirts-one blonde and one brunette.

Wells wrote in the first person, and uses the Spallane-ian dialog:

"She was dynamite and I wanted to light her fuse and see exactly what kind of explosion she'd make."

What Wells did well is create a gloomy, drab, dark atmosphere for the novel. Very noir-ish. The whole story takes place in rainy, cold weather and mostly at night. This compounds Steve Lee's cynical attitude, which
enhances the story. These are the type of P.I. crime stories that made the 50's paperback era popular. They were successful for the publishers and gobbled up by the public. Once in a while you have to read one of these for nostalgic reasons.-This one does it.

As for Charlie Wells, he was born in the south and wrote one other novel that I know of- "Let The Night Cry." With another Maguire Cover.

3 comments:

Steve Lewis said...

August

From http://hermes.lib.olemiss.edu/mystery/exhibit.asp?display=10§ion=2

an online archive which I discovered while looking up a contemporary of Wells, Earle Basinksky. Both worked with Spillane, by the way.

Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1923, Charlie Wells worked as a draftsman, a bank messenger, and a drummer in a dance band. During World War II, he served in an anti-aircraft battalion and a field artillery unit in Europe. Wells worked with Spillane for a year before Abelard Press published Let the Night Cry (1953), in which a New Orleans ex-con becomes entangled in a web of vengeance. The Last Kill (1955) finds a Memphis private eye tracking the murderer of a friend who knew too much about a million-dollar heist. Robert Maguire, one of the great cover artists of the period, provided the illustrations for both The Last Kill and Death is a Cold, Keen Edge.

Something else. When I think of librarians I immediately conjure up sweet, gentle, grey-haired, low-voiced old ladies, anxious to please you if they can only find their spectacles and locate you.
That led to my first shock.
Behind the desk sat a sweet, gentle, sultry-voiced brunette. She found me with deep brown eyes, smiled at me with full, soft lips and woke my long-dead, deeply buried thirst for knowledge with a suggestive, “May I help you?”
-- Charlie Wells, The Last Kill, p. 20.

August West said...

Steve: Thanks for the info. You got me thinking-I wonder if Signet paid Spillane to work with writers to help churn out hard-nosed novels in the 1950s. It's obvious that his name on these paperbacks couldn't of hurt sales. The combination of Spillane and Maguire to promote new authors....probably worked.

John Hocking said...

I've had both The Last Kill and Let the Night Cry sitting on my shelf for years. Maybe now I'll finally read them.

Also have two by Earle Basinsky, Death is a Cold, Keen Edge and The Big Steal. Both of these feature prominent blurbs from Spillane.

Another author ushered into print by Spillane was Dave J. Garrity, who gave us Kiss Off the Dead (one of Gold Medal's Best Covers Ever), Cry Me a Killer, and Dragon Hunt.
The first two are so hardboiled that the author's name is simply given as Garrity. How tough is that? Dragon Hunt is as by Dave J. Garrity, but makes up for it with a big photo on the back cover of the author, loose tie and cigarette stub in his teeth, going over manuscript pages with Mickey Spillane. I understand that the detective protagonist of this book has a tough time figuring the angles of the case and actually gives Mike Hammer a phone call to ask for advice. Obviously, Mickey and his creation were very good friends to have.

John Hocking